Nationality: Italian. Born: Milan, 9 April 1933. Education: Attended Academy of Dramatic Art, Rome. Family: Daughter with the actress Carla Gravina: Giovanna. Career: 1950s—stage actor for theater companies all over Italy; appeared in TV adaptations of Dostoyevski's Idiot , Chekhov's Uncle Vanya , and Vittorio Alfieri's Saul ; 1960—film debut in Sotto dieci bandiere ; 1964—directed controversial production of Hochhuth's stage play The Representative ; 1971—arrested during strike in Italy; increasingly took on roles that meshed with his militant leftist politics. Awards: Nastro d'Argento Award for Best Actor, for Oeuvre au noir , 1988; special jury prize, Felix awards, for Porte aperte , 1990; Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival, for career achievement, 1991. Died: Of heart attack, in Florina, Greece, 6 December 1994.
Sotto dieci bandiere ( Under Ten Flags ) (Coletti) (as Braun)
La ragazza con la valigia ( Girl with a Suitcase ; Pleasure Girl ) (Zurlini) (as Piero); L'Antinea ( L'Atlantide ; Journey beneath the Desert ; The Lost Kingdom ) (Ulmer and Masini) (as Tarath); Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide ( Hercules and the Captive Women ) (Cottafavi); A cavallo della tigre (Comencini)
Un uomo da bruciare ( A Man for Burning ) (Orsini and Taviani) (as Salvatore); Le quattro giornate de Napoli ( The Four Days of Naples ) (Loy) (as Stimolo); Il terrorista (de Bosio)
Il peccato (Grau)
Per un pugno di dollari ( A Fistful of Dollars ) (Leone) (as Ramon Rojo, credited as John Wells); Il magnifico cornuto ( The Magnificent Cuckold ) (Pietrangeli) (as assessor)
Per qualche dollari in più ( For a Few Dollars More ) (Leone) (as Indio, credited as John Wells); Svegliati e uccidi ( Lutring . . . reveille-toi et meurs ; Wake Up and Die ; Too Soon to Die ) (Lizzani) (as Inspector Moroni); L'armata Brancaleone (Monicelli) (title role); La strega in amore ( The Witch ; Aura ) (Damiani) (as Fabrizio)
Het Gangstermeisje ( A Gangstergirl ) (Weisz) (as Jascha); A ciascuno il suo ( We Still Kill the Old Way ) (Petri) (as Prof. Paolo Laurana); Faccia a faccia ( Cara a Cara ; Face to Face ) (Sollima) (as Prof. Brad Fletcher); Quien sabe? ( A Bullet for the General ) (Damiani) (as El Chuncho); I sette fratelli Cervi (Puccini)
Banditi a Milano ( The Violent Four ) (Lizzani) (as Cavallero); Summit (Bontempi) (as Paolo)
L'amanti di Gramigna (Lizzani) (title role); Sotto il segno dello scorpione ( Under the Sign of Scorpio ) (Taviani) (as Renno)
Le Vent d'est ( Wind from the East ; East Wind ) (Godard) (as soldier); Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto ( Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion ) (Petri) (as police inspector); Le Cercle rouge (Melville) (as Vogel); Uomini contro (Rosi) (as Lt. Ottolenghi)
Sacco e Vanzetti ( Sacco and Vanzetti ) (Montaldo) (as Bartolomeo Vanzetti); La classe operaia va in paradiso ( The Working Class Goes to Heaven ; Lulu the Tool ) (Petri) (as Lulu Massa); 12 Dicembre (Zurlini and others—doc); Il caso Mattei ( The Mattei Affair ) (Rosi) (as Enrico Mattei)
L'Attentat ( Plot ; The French Conspiracy ) (Boisset) (as Sadiel); Sbatti il mostro in prima pagina (Bellocchio) (as Bizanti)
A proposito Lucky Luciano ( Re: Lucky Luciano ; Lucky Luciano ) (Rosi) (title role); Giordano Bruno (Montaldo) (title role)
Il sospetto (Maselli) (as Emile)
Todo modo (Petri) (as the President)
Io ho paura (Damiani)
Cristo si è fermato a Eboli ( Christ Stopped at Eboli ; Eboli ) (Rosi) (as Carlo Levi)
Stark System (Balducci)
La Dame aux camélias ( The True Story of Camille ; La Vera storia della signora delle camelie ; Die Kameliendame ) (Bolognini and Festa Campanile)
The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (Temple and Gräf—filmed concert)
Scherzo del destinoin aqquato dietro l'angolo come un brigante di strada ( A Joke of Destiny, Lying in Wait around the Corner Like a Street Bandit ) (Wertmüller)
La Mort de Mario Ricci ( The Death of Mario Ricci ) (Goretta) (as Bernard Fontana)
Actas de Marusia ( Letters from Marusia ) (Littin)
Il caso Moro ( The Moro Affair ) (Ferrara) (as Aldo Moro)
Cronaca di una morte annunciato ( Chronicle of a Death Foretold ) (Rosi) (as Dr. Cristo Bedoya); Un ragazzo di Calabria (Comencini) (as Felice)
Oeuvre au noir ( The Abyss ) (Delvaux) (as Prior); Pestalozzos Berg (Von Gunten) (as Pestalozzi)
Porte aperte ( Open Doors ) (Amelio) (as Judge Vito Di Francesco); Tre colone in cronaca (Vanzina)
Une Storia Semplice ( A Simple Story ) (Greco)
Funes, un gran amor ( Funes, a Great Love ) (De La Torre)
Tirano Banderas ( Banderas, the Tyrant ) (García Sánchez)
Un Eroe Borghese (Placido); To Vlemma tou Odyssea ( Ulysses' Gaze ; The Gaze of Odysseus ; Le Regarde d'Ulysse ) (Angelopoulos)
"Gian Maria Volonté Talks about Cinema and Politics," interview with Guy Braucourt, in Cineaste (New York), Fall 1975.
Interview in Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 115, 1986.
Interview in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), May 1988.
Daniel, Ferenc, Gian Maria Volonté , Budapest, 1978.
Simsolo, Noël, "Gian Maria Volonté," in Image et Son (Paris), September 1973.
Viktorova, E., "Das Phänomen Volonté," in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), January and February 1980.
Obituary in New York Times , 7 December 1994.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 12 December 1994.
Stars (Mariembourg), Spring 1995; Autumn 1995.
"Never to Be Forgotten," in Psychotronic Video (Narrowsburg), no. 20, 1995.
Legrand, Gérard, "Gian Maria Volonté (1933–1994)," in Positif (Paris), March 1995.
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The leading political actor of the 1960s and 1970s, Gian Maria Volonté shaped the look and style of Italian political filmmaking as much as have the great directors with whom he collaborated: Francesco Rosi, Elio Petri, and Marco Bellocchio. Volonté established a strong reputation on stage and television before he entered cinema; even after he became the leading political spokesman on screen he continued to appear in socially committed theater productions.
Volonté's first roles in films solidified one aspect of his persona: the bad guy. In half a dozen Italian Westerns, including Per un pugno di dollari and Per qualche dollari in più (in both of which he appeared under the pseudonym John Wells), and Quien sabe? , he personified the psychotic villain—powerful, frightening, and nasty. These traits would be combined with a political purpose in his masterful portrayal of the chief police inspector in Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto . The inspector, a symbol of the patriarchal state with fascist tendencies, cold-bloodedly murders his mistress in order to prove that his position and reputation will place him above suspicion despite volumes of evidence that he is the killer. He played a similar role in Petri's Todo modo , a political intrigue that involves state and religious leaders on retreat who kill each other one by one.
Although Volonté was suitably terrifying as power-hungry civil officials, he could also play sympathetic roles. Two of the most notable examples of his positive characters are Lulu Massa, the Milanese factory worker in La classe operaia va in paradiso , who achieves political consciousness after his hand is mangled by a machine thereby cutting his productivity, and as the doctor in Cristo si è fermato a Eboli , who because of his antifascist activities in 1930s Italy is exiled to a backward village in southern Italy and thus learns of the tremendous difference between himself and the peasants of Calabria.
Throughout the last two decades of his career, Volonté chose his roles carefully, appearing primarily in films that espoused a social commitment similar to his. Two of his better late-career performances were in Rosi's Cronaca di una morte annunciato and Gianni Amelio's Porte aperte , both of which deal with the dispensing of justice. In the former, based on the novel by Gabriel García Márquez, Volonté returns to his hometown after a 20-year absence seeking the truth about the senseless murder of his boyhood best friend. In the latter, Volonté again confronts murder—this time a brutal triple-homicide committed by an unrepentant killer—as the only member of a multijudge tribunal handling the resulting case who opposes capital punishment. Volonté gives a perfectly restrained performance, conveying dignity and grace in his crusade to save the murderer's life, a quest initially successful, but ultimately doomed to failure.
In his 36th year as an actor, Volonté died in 1994 after having nearly completed work on acclaimed Greek director Theodoros Angelopoulos's To Vlemma tou Odyssea , in which he portrays the head of the Sarajevo cinematheque. In addition to leaving a rich assortment of memorable roles, Volonté also left for the acting profession a rare example of an aesthetically successful mixture of private convictions and public performance.
—Elaine Mancini, updated by David E. Salamie